It is a time of year where the lag seems to be breaking. The sullen aura of winter’s grip is supposed to come off – if only one finger at a time. This is more the experience for those of you who happen to be more sensitive to seasonal variations. Longer darkness, less light, less travel, cold, etc. all work towards ensuring that you’re feelings of isolation and loneliness increase.
And if you feel aversively to any reason to get out, like for snowshoeing or snowboarding for instance, you can be sure to feel that grip even more tightly. But, what if it isn’t weather dependent? What if this happens in the middle of July at the height of the warmth, and the sun, and reasons for congregating with others? What if it happens only infrequently, or all the time? What if you’ve been riding the emotional rollercoaster into despair and numbness on and off for years?
There is no simple answer, to be sure. There are endless life events that, if arranged effectively, can ensure the lasting hold of depressive feelings. Hell, it might even evolve into a full-blown depressive disorder. To note: there is certainly a difference between feeling “depressive symptoms” and experiencing bona fide depression. And that difference isn’t small.
With so many people telling you to “shake it off” or to “get over it”, or worse even you tell yourselves that, what are you to do? Is it a problem with you? And, should you only adhere to the wise wisdom of old friends that you shall, indeed, snap right out of it. As if it was some psychological phase akin to Pogs or frosted tips (both of which, I know intimately). The failure of your friends in such seemingly useful, but in reality useless, advice is not wholly their own. In fact, it is likely that your experiences of feeling down makes them so uncomfortable that they feel compelled to rhyme you a list of “tried and true” remedies to ensure the cure arrives post haste.
And, for them, it does. You agree, out of desperation, and scuttle down to whatever suggestion they have made. In effect, you have left and they no longer feel uncomfortable. The cure has worked! It has worked for them, but not for you.
In working alongside those afflicted with depressive symptoms there are, at least generally speaking, two areas that are involved. Both are what are formally called “cognitive distortions” which is just psychobabble for “trouble thinking clearly”. Don’t get confused though, the problem is necessarily with thinking too little. Indeed, often it’s thinking too much about the wrong things and in the wrong way. But, here’s a little secret.
We all do it.
The following are two of the more common gears that continue driving the distortion cogs into maintaining folk’s struggles. By no means is this exhaustive or all-inclusive. There are, as identified, too many variables to include a cure-all. And, if such a thing existed, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it! As a quick aside: if someone is trying to provide you with one approach to solve all your problems, with no negative side-effects. Run far. Run wide.
Have you ever seen those pictures online that appear to show one thing, but when informed that there is another image that can be seen you immediately and permanently see it too?
Or, have you ever purchased a car only to be frustrated in seeing that almost everyone else has also purchased that car? I mean, what other explanation could there be for the sudden explosion of drivers with Ford Festiva’s littering the highway?
Well, perhaps there is a third thing happening instead of a large, community wide conspiracy to purchase the cars that you love.
We in the mind-field may refer to this phenomenon as a “mental filter”. Essentially, we take the information in from the world, push it through our computers and spit out an interpretation. Is the glass half empty, or half full? Is the problem in front of you a barrier or an opportunity for growth? Is that spilled coffee a mistake or proof that you’re an unfixable, aloof, screw up?
How the mental filter can keep us in a depressive state is that the information that we are filing through that filter is spitting out interpretations bent on ensuring you’re right in thinking that way. This, though counterproductive, also makes perfectly good sense. How often are you comfortable with being wrong for instance? You look for evidence to ensure that your beliefs in the world are correct, because they give some semblance of control.
They also create shortcuts or habits. And, as we all have experienced, bad habits are as hard to be rid of as good habits are to form! You’ve been practicing this way of thinking for a very long time, and although it has never created any issues for you in the past, this approach to the world is flawed in that it is failing you in this moment. This is your, perhaps first, clue to this mental filter at work.
Countering it starts with identifying that it is occurring. Once you know that it is occurring and you are growing more skilled at recognizing it, you can identify it more readily. And that’s when this step comes into play: Challenge it.
That’s right – don’t let that negative thought bounce around in the arena of your mind playing all characters against themselves! Grab that long hook, put on the “your speech is over music” and tow that bastard out.
It takes some time to master this and you may need some initial support from someone trained to help challenge you into recognizing that “just because you THINK it is true, doesn’t make it ACTUALLY true. But, as long as it isn’t so far ingrained that you are unable to see the filter, you can largely do this on your own.
Identifying that your thinking pattern may be the vehicle for depression to ride in on is an important step to ensuring constant, un-traversable road lay before it. You may not be able to choose when it comes knocking, but you can definitely choose to give it a cold shoulder. Identify what depression needs from you(to lay in bed all day, to talk down to yourself, to sleep too much, to ignore your friends, to stop doing what you enjoy, etc.) and work hard towards doing the opposite. Be careful, though, there are more than one challenge we face and you’re decision towards this route may be hindered by another issue with thinking –
It either is, or isn’t.
Let’s start with a philosophical paradox surrounding “truth”.
You believe that being honest is the highest virtue. Something perhaps that most of us could agree with, experiencing only little reservations about its truth. Honesty is the best policy, after all, and is golden as a rule only narrowly coming second to treating others as you wish to be treated.
They’re quick and they sound great!
So, honesty as a high virtue must mean never lying. There could never be a reason to, after all, because lying only begets lying and digs us a hole that will quickly bury at least our reputation, if not our lives.
So, here is the thought experiment:
You think you should never lie. An axe murder comes to your house and wants to know where your family lives.
What do you do?
It’s a difficult experiment in and of itself, but for now we’ll ignore any interesting philosophical questions that this brings up (and, perhaps, ignoring the slight nod I seem to be doing toward lying, which isn’t my intent).
Things aren’t always so “black and white” even with something like honesty, as shown above. And they certainly are not black and white in the world. But, like the mental filter, this strategy does do something for you in that it gives a framework to see the world in. They are either good or bad, wrong or right, yin or yang. But, there are grey areas in between.
When we engage in this ridged thinking pattern, any movement outside that framework is perceived as bad and ignored. We are convinced that there is definitely no response or explanation except for the one we hold. We don’t deserve happiness – because we are inherently bad. We’ll never escape this – so there’s no point in trying. I’ll never be cured – so, what’s the point of going on.
These are all flawed though patterns that fill the black and white thinking approach.
We do deserve happiness – and our core beliefs may be what is keeping us down. We can escape this – though that may mean accepting reality as it is and making changes from there. You may never be cured – but, you can always choose to live life fully within your current means.
Luckily for us, the approaches to identifying this issue are much the same as above! It is great when we can recycle skills in order to improve our life, isn’t it?
These are certainly not the only barriers to thinking clearly – many are listed here. But, when it comes to depression these two seem to be embedded within most the people that I’ve met. Once these are identified they begin to be able to grab at these thoughts as they occur and can start to counter them. Through this, they take away the power from the thoughts and step closer towards managing their experiences.